Lawyers in our firm recently settled an Alabama lawsuit involving the failure of a smoke detector in a house fire that occurred in 2011. Three young children, 4-year-old twins and a 1-year-old girl, died during the fire as a result of inhaling toxic smoke, chemicals and carbon monoxide. The claim was brought against Walter Kidde and United Technologies Corporation, among others, as a result of an ionization smoke detector in the house failing to alarm. Greg Allen and LaBarron Boone from our firm, along with Shane Seaborn and Myron Penn, two very good lawyers with offices in Union Springs and Clayton, represented the family in this important case. They can tell you that any homeowner who has an ionization smoke detector – without more – has a dangerous and hazardous condition in his or her home. Unfortunately, most homeowners don’t know about the problem.

Lawyers in our firm have handled cases of this sort in the past and will continue to handle them in the future. Smoke detector manufacturers have known for more than 30 years that a standalone ionization smoke detector is not adequate to protect a home involving a slow-growth or slow-smoldering fire. Proper testing reveals that ionization smoke detectors do not even detect smoke. They detect submicron particles, which may not be produced in sufficient quantity to activate an ionization smoke detector. Smoldering fires tend to put off larger and cooler particles that may not set off an ionization detector even if the particles reach the detection chamber.

Ionization detectors are also dangerous because they lull people into a false sense of security. An ionization detector is often the detector that goes off when someone opens an oven door or burns toast. In such cases, there may be no visible smoke whatsoever. The sad truth is that folks who have these types of detectors assume that if their detector sounds in the absence of smoke, that it would certainly go off in a fire. That is a terrible and highly dangerous misconception.

Another problem with the ionization design is that a person who has a battery operated detector may actually take the battery out to prevent nuisance alarms. This obviously can result in a dangerous and hazardous condition. The detector housings are made out of plastic so that when the fire does flame up and spread, the evidence is destroyed. The detector melts and burns. It may be impossible to determine the manufacturer of the detector or even whether there was a detector actually in the home.

There is an alternative technology available that makes the home much safer from smoldering fires. That’s the photoelectric design, which does sense the presence of smoke in a smoldering fire. This technology has been around for years and has proven to be effective. On the other hand, on the slow smoldering fire, the ionization detector may delay from 30 minutes to an hour or it many never sound.

Fortunately, there are concerned safety advocates throughout the world who have dedicated their lives to removing these defective smoke detectors from the market. Adrian Butler, David Isaac, and Dean Dennis, three of the world’s leading fire safety advocates, recently visited our firm in Montgomery, Ala. These three men met with our lawyers to further educate them on fire safety. They participated in an open forum on Beasley Allen Shareholder LaBarron Boone’s radio talk show, “The Law and You.” I will give you some information on each of these men:

  • Adrian Butler is an Australian consumer advocate who was once in the business of selling smoke detectors. For 15 years, Mr. Butler has worked tirelessly to remove ionization alarms from every home by bringing down the manufacturers and educating the public. Mr. Butler noted that at least 62 people have died in Alabama this year due to defective ionization alarms. But what is so frustrating for Mr. Butler is the fact that the fire industry has known that ionization alarms do not adequately protect consumers for decades. Mr. Butler believes that if consumer groups will get involved, by working together they can help bring an end to the needless fire deaths due to defective ionization alarms. Our law firm is dedicated to helping bring this about.
  • David Isaac is a former employee of one of the largest smoke alarm companies in the world, United Technologies Corporation. This company still sells ionization smoke alarms today despite Mr. Isaac’s clear warnings to the company that the ionization alarm is defective. Mr. Isaac noted in the radio show that an ionization alarm is not really a smoke alarm because it does not detect smoke. In fact, the ionization alarm’s probability of activating in a house fire is about 1 percent. When asked why manufacturers continue to sell alarms that are known to be defective, Mr. Isaac explained that manufacturers are putting profits over safety. Manufacturers will not stop selling ionization alarms until they are forced to stop.
  • Dean Dennis, a self-taught expert from Ohio, began learning about the dangers of ionization alarms when he lost his daughter in a fire due to an ionization alarm failing to sound. His goal is to save lives of unsuspecting persons. Mr. Dennis noted in the radio program that an ionization alarm responds 30 minutes slower than a photoelectric alarm in the most dangerous type of fire – a slow-smoldering fire. Approximately 500,000 people die in house fires each year due to defective ionization smoke alarms.

Interestingly, there are states such as Vermont that do not allow new buildings to be sold with ionization detectors being the only device. New homes must have at least a photoelectric-type smoke detector in the home. There are certain cities around the country, including Boston and Cincinnati, that do not allow standalone ionization detectors. The U.S. is slowly waking up to the problem, but it is taking far too long for those in authority to do something about it. Folks are dying as a result of these detectors not functioning properly.

The smoke detector industry would like to have the three men mentioned above to simply go away. Fortunately, that will not happen until the industry changes its ways. These are brave individuals, who are willing and able to take on this industry in an effort to try and save lives, and they have no intention of leaving this on-going battle for safety. Lawyers at Beasley Allen have joined in that fight and they will not stop until standalone ionization alarms are no longer offered to the American public.

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